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Firefighters get a glimpse of rally car before big race


July 15, 2009
BERLIN — Berlin firefighters got a look at a rally car last Thursday to prepare them for the 2009 New England Forest Rally.

The Berlin stage of the race will be on Saturday. It is one stage in the two-day event that takes place between Bethel and Mexico, Maine, and Berlin and Errol. It will take place on Friday and Saturday.

Cars will be stationed in the mill yard, racing up Success Pond Road. There will be a "Super Special" stage in the mill yard, giving spectators a chance to watch the action. There will also be buses to take people up to viewing areas along the race course for a fee.

Tim O'Neil, event organizer and owner of Team O'Neil Rally School and Car Control Center in Dalton, brought a 1999 Subaru to the Berlin Fire Department to show the firefighters the specialized systems should they be called to an accident. The cars have fire suppression systems and roll cages, but the firefighters still need to be prepared should something go wrong.

The race, which will feature between 45 and 60 cars and draw nationally ranked teams, should be a boon to the area, according to Cos Economic Development Corporation executive director Peter Riviere.

"We're really trying to build the regional side up," he said.

The plan is to get more of these types of events and capitalize on the business they bring to the area.

He said they haven't done an economic impact study to see the actual dollar amount the event will draw, but in Pennsylvania a similar two-day event brings in $2 million.

The race is a Rally America sanctioned event, and top ranked teams will be competing for points. This is the sixth race in the series, which Mr. O'Neil said isn't for a cash purse.

"It's more for the love of it and the challenge," he said.

The challenge for him is now to put on the event, which he said will take between 250 and 300 people to run.

The Berlin stage will start at about 9 a.m. on Saturday, with cars racing up Success Pond Road. Then they will stage at the far end and race back. The "Super Special" stage will be a half mile course around the mill site, set up for people to watch. Mr. O'Neil said this would likely talk place around 11:30 a.m. but check www.newenglandforestrally.com closer to race day to get exact times.

Later in the day the racers will head up to Errol for another stage.

Expected to race is three time Rally America Champion and Freestyle Motocross legend Travis Pastrana. Pastrana drives for Subaru Rally Team USA and is one of the sport's biggest stars.

Local stars will also be racing, including former regional champions Chris Duplessis, of Team O'Neil, John Cassidy of Last Ditch Racing, and Wyatt Knox, also of Team O'Neil.

Mr. Riviere said if sponsors see local support it will improve the area's chances of hosting smaller regional events, which would be a good economic engine for the region. He said he'd like to see several races run in the off season, such as an event in mid-winter, where cars bounce off snowbanks instead of trees.

"Like a toboggan ride instead of a car ride," he said.

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